‘They are essentially making peace with a president they once shunned…’
(Quin Hillyer, Liberty Headlines) It appears that Donald Trump and the Republican Party are getting more accustomed to each other – and changing aspects of each other, too.
That’s the main takeaway from a sudden slew of articles and columns from across the journalistic spectrum.
What the articles disagree on is whether the Republicans’ “normalizing” of Trump is good or bad, or whether it will prove politically effective or politically disastrous.
The articles assume the rather incontrovertible premise that when Trump announced for the presidency in 2015, he was a “different kind of Republican” who deliberately upset GOP apple carts, not to mention prominent Republican cart-pushers.
The most direct take on how the situation appears to be changing comes from Jonathan Martin in the New York Times, who writes about how even some of Trump’s formerly fiercest enemies within the Republican Party are now publicly solicitous of them – and he of them:
Mitt Romney did not vote for Donald J. Trump in 2016. Representative Martha McSally of Arizona may not have, either, but she will not say. And Senator Dean Heller of Nevada now insists that he did cast his ballot for Mr. Trump, but for many months, he would not reveal his vote.
Senator Bob Corker supported Mr. Trump, but seemed to regret it last year when he concluded that the country had deposited an unruly toddler in the Oval Office.
Yet as each of these Republicans pursues a Senate run this year — or in the case of Mr. Corker, reconsiders one — they are essentially making peace with a president they once shunned.
Their hopes for a détente with Mr. Trump, who effectively staged a hostile takeover of a party he joined only in 2012, reflect the realization that rank-and-file Republicans have come to embrace the president. [And] there is little appetite on the right for Trump skeptics in the halls of Congress.
But it works both ways, reports the Times: “[W]hat is striking is how easy a president often consumed with slights has made it for his former critics to bind up old wounds. The man who once ridiculed Mr. Corker as ‘Liddle,’ taunted Mr. Romney as ‘a choke artist’ and used an open-press White House meeting to issue a barbed warning to Mr. Heller about supporting health care repeal or risk losing his seat is playing nicely with the party establishment.”
And when Romney announced his candidacy for a U.S. Senate seat in Utah, Trump quickly endorsed him – and Romney quickly boasted about the endorsement.
What’s happening is that American politics tends to push people into either one of two “teams,” and even stark differences within those teams can’t hide the reality that the Republican team and the Democratic team are farther apart than those intra-team (or intra-party) divisions.
The bridging of the divide is happening in terms not just of personalities, but of issues as well.
That’s the thesis of an analytical piece by The Weekly Standard reporter David Byler, who uses a plethora of polling data and election results from the past three decades to ferret out fact from fiction.
His main conclusion: “As Democratic presidential candidates drifted leftward culturally… they lost ground with the white working class.”
As Republicans, led by Trump, moved more aggressively to cement gains among this demographic, they also began emphasizing a mix of issues more popular among those white workers (and farmers).
But Byler shows that those voters were trending toward Republicans anyway, and that many times their issue stances are fluid.
That’s where Trump himself comes in as a prime mover of Republican issue shifts.
He writes that “sometimes the rank and file will just follow the leader. Republicans are no exception to this rule. More than one survey has shown that when Trump takes a political position, many Republican voters adopt that position.”
The most striking examples have been the movement from advocacy of free trade towards more protectionist stances.
Also noticeable has been the sharp rise in Republican support for Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, and a sharp drop in GOP support for the FBI – and the drop (alas) in the fiscal conservatism of Republican congressmen.
On the other hand, Trump himself has moved substantially on several issues where he was out of line with traditional Republican/conservative orthodoxy, reports Byler.
This is especially true on health care, where Trump is now much more steadily conservative than he was in 2015, and on judges and on personal income-tax rates.
In the end, Byler laments that the Republican Party’s accommodation with Trumpism has stopped potential conservative-policy innovation dead in its tracks and “kept the party from renewing itself despite having a real opportunity to do so.”
At National Review Online, longtime Buckley favorite Richard Brookhiser takes this theme even farther, writing that after Trump the entire conservative movement will need “rebuilding” because “Trump’s conservative admirers have had to abandon and contradict what they once professed to hold most dear.”
Brookhiser posits that some of this is because they see Trump as a winner – and for the current president (he argues), “Trump[’s] winning is all.”
On that front, the long-term jury is still out.
Greg Sargent at the Washington Post writes that there now are copious examples of how “Trump helps Democrats win in unlikely places.”
On the other hand, Democrats are reeling at the backlash against them for their opposition to the major tax cut Trump signed; and, since Trump’s election, various Republican Party committees have been raising record, or near-record, amounts of campaign cash for the 2018 mid-terms, while Democrats have lagged.
Trump and Republicans could still have the last laugh.